Last Sunday, the government passed what was billed as a major reform in Israeli broadcasting.
The cabinet voted 18-2 to eliminate the fee the public is forced to pay to finance public broadcasting, shut down the public broadcasting authority and open a new public broadcasting authority that will be unfettered by the wreckage of the old one.
The problem with the bill that was approved by the government for submission to the Knesset is that the larger problem with public broadcasting remained unaddressed. The main reason that members of the public railed against the fee is that they don’t like what they are paying for. By and large, with a few notable exceptions, public broadcasting’s offerings are unoriginal, uninteresting and poorly done.
Moreover, they either reflect the worldview of the narrow post-Zionist sliver of the population or signify nothing at all.
The decision to close the broadcast authority and reopen it under another name while canceling the fee is a net positive achievement. But it was also a missed opportunity.
At the last moment, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni inserted radical amendments in the bill to ensure that the price of reform will be maintaining public broadcasting as a subsidized platform for the radical Left.
The original bill, written by Communications Minister Gilad Erdan and co-sponsored by Finance Minister Yair Lapid, gave authority to a committee to nominate an unlimited number of candidates to serve on the new broadcast authority’s nine-member board of directors. The committee was to be chaired by an unelected, retired Supreme Court justice or district court judge, and manned by two other members appointed by the judge.
In the original draft, the judge was supposed to give the list to the minister of communications, who would be empowered to accept or veto the individual names on the list. While this system would give the retired judges enormous power to impose their political ideology on the public broadcasting system, the minister would retain some limited power to block this corruption of broadcasting independence. As new ministers are appointed every few years from different political parties, in all likelihood the minister’s power would ensure some degree of political diversity among committee members.
Livni’s amendment took the minister’s power away. Her version – which Erdan accepted and the government approved – gives the judge the power to present a closed nine-person list to the minister and the minister can either approve or reject the entire list.
So, too, the original bill gave the minister and the government ultimate power to fire the general director of the new authority. Under Livni’s amended version, only the judge has that power.
So who is this all-powerful unelected judge? Since the overwhelming majority of Supreme Court justices are radical leftists, it is fair to assume that the judge will be a radical leftist.
There is some wiggle room to be had since retired district court judges can also run the committee and there are more non-radicals among them. But the law of averages leans heavily in favor of the radical Left.
The result is that the new bill not only ensures ideological conformity in the committee, by granting a single person essentially all the power to choose the committee, it ensures that the ideological conformity will almost certainly be leftist.
This is what the Left does. It quashes independent thought while insinuating its members in every position it can to prevent an open exchange in the marketplace of ideas.
As a consequence, Israel’s news and entertainment industries are by and large closed to Zionist voices.
Consider the saga of Latma. I founded Latma, a Hebrew-language satirical media criticism website funded by private philanthropists, in February 2009. Our flagship satirical news broadcast, The Tribal Update, premiered in May 2009.
Latma’s purpose was to entertain viewers while focusing attention on the sacred cows of the Leftist elites that control the media, the legal system and academia. Until Latma’s appearance, those elites had been immune from effective criticism.
The result was immediate and overwhelming. Three months after we launched it, The Tribal Update became the most-watched Israeli Internet broadcast. Within a year of its launch, Latma had garnered international attention and tens of millions of hits.
Many in the broadcast industry were certain that if Latma’s Tribal Update were broadcast on television, it would become the most popular satirical television show in decades. And yet, neither of the commercial television stations showed any interest.
That left state television. As the station that supposedly exists to provide a platform to underserved sectors of the public, Channel 1 seemed like a reasonable fit for our show.
And indeed, in 2010, it solicited a pilot broadcast, which it immediately accepted. The station’s leadership opened negotiations toward signing a contract to produce a season of the show. But then they disappeared, only to reappear, and then disappear, again and again.
Over the past four years, Latma passed through every committee charged with approving new broadcasts multiple times. But we never received a contract.
Last fall, the Knesset’s Education Committee intervened. MK Ayelet Shaked from Bayit Yehudi demanded that Channel 1 account for its treatment of Latma. Committee chairman Amram Mitzna, from Livni’s far-left Hatnua party, ordered the station to immediately sign a contract with us.
Three months later, when nothing happened, another meeting was called, and despite his ideological affinity with Latma’s opponents, Mitzna again gallantly ordered Channel 1 to sign a contract with Latma.
It may still happen. Our producer recently met with the station’s executives and had a productive negotiations session.
But even if there is a happy end to the story, the saga Latma has undergone as an avowedly Zionist content producer has no precedent.
At a minimum, Livni’s intervention in the new broadcast law will ensure that if and when shows like Latma’s Tribal Update appear on public television, their appearances will be rare.
The only way to remedy the situation in the media business as a whole is to deregulate it. The only way that all voices can be heard is if there is no one regulating any voices.
But rather than strip away the power of the ideologically uniform regulators, rightist politicians give them more power. And so they collaborate with the Left to perpetuate a system that is inherently discriminatory against them, and against their ideological camps, which comprise the majority of the population.
Consider the Internet. On Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal ran an article describing the changes that online video content is fomenting in the advertising industry. US advertising industry leaders project that by 2018, the majority of US advertising dollars will be spent on online platforms rather than traditional television networks.
As in the US, so in Israel. Online content producers – such as Latma – are taking away an ever-expanding segment of viewership from television stations.
And this is altogether reasonable. Unrestrained by “objective” regulators, online content producers can put out anything they want. Unlike traditional broadcasters, Internet content creators stand or fall on the quality of their output rather than the strength of their political connections and the nature of their politics.
Rather than protect the only free, accessible marketplace of ideas in Israel, in February Erdan formed a new committee, composed largely of regulators. It is tasked with determining how to regulate the media market in the era of Internet in order to protect the commercial viability of the commercial broadcast stations – which are run by members of the closed club of post-Zionist broadcasters.
In other words, the new committee is to find ways to limit Internet speech in order to ensure that consumers have limited choices.
The situation in print media is similarly discouraging.
In March, lawmakers from coalition parties co-sponsored a bill whose clear purpose is to shut down the free nationwide daily Yisrael Hayom, owned by American Jewish casino magnate and conservative philanthropist Sheldon Adelson.
The bill would require all nationally circulated dailies to charge consumers a fee, thus rendering Yisrael Hayom’s business model illegal.
Until Yisrael Hayom appeared on the scene seven years ago, all mass circulation Hebrew-language daily newspapers in Israel – together with television and radio news shows – were uniformly antagonistic toward Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Yisrael Hayom is not a right-wing newspaper. According to reporters who work for Yisrael Hayom, all of its editors and reporters, aside from a few sports reporters, are leftists. And their views are reflected in the paper’s coverage of events, albeit to a somewhat lesser degree than in competing papers.
And yet, from the moment it appeared on the market, Yediot Aharonot, its main competitor, and Ma’ariv, Yediot’s chronically bankrupt clone and competitor, tried to get it outlawed. The current bill is Yediot’s friendly legislators’ sixth attempt to pass a law to close down the competition.
The most distressing thing about the current bill is that it is co-sponsored by Shaked and supported by the Habayit Hayehudi party leader, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett.
While it is absolutely true that Yisrael Hayom favors Netanyahu over Bennett and Shaked, it is also true that Yediot and Haaretz favor the post-Zionist Meretz party over them.
Closing Yisrael Hayom won’t ensure them fair media coverage. The only way to get fair coverage is to strip all media outlets of government protection – and of government regulation.
Yisrael Hayom published an article the other day arguing – rightly – that the Knesset bill is unconstitutional because it breaches Israel’s Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation, and infringes on freedom of expression. The subtext of the article was that if the law is passed, the paper will petition the Supreme Court.
But that would be futile. The Supreme Court isn’t in the business of protecting rights. It is in the business of protecting the Left. For its sin of supporting Netanyahu, Yisrael Hayom can expect the court to trample its rights just as it trampled Arutz 7’s rights in 2002 when it absurdly ruled that it was unconstitutional to allow Arutz 7 a broadcast license.
And so the vicious circle will continue. Leftist judges will appoint leftist regulators. The regulators will act in concert with leftist broadcasters to block Zionist voices and to destroy non-leftist competition. Shortsighted right-wing politicians will collaborate with this corruption to win tactical victories against their opponents, while accepting strategic defeat in the war of ideas.
This is our system. And until our leaders open the marketplace of ideas to competition, our system it shall remain.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.